Nikola Vucevic’s Bulls teammates need to remember his value
Despite big games like he had against the Wizards on Tuesday, Vucevic has been overlooked.far too often this season. But during the playoffs, he might become the most important player on the team.
At 6-10, 260 pounds, center Nikola Vucevic should be hard to miss.
Even when he’s working next to the Bulls’ other frontcourt players in practices and shootarounds, Vucevic stands out — more mass, more presence.
It’s about time his teammates started noticing him.
“We’re just trying to do a better job of playing through ‘Vooch,’ ’’ forward DeMar DeRozan said after the Bulls’ 107-94 victory Tuesday night against the Wizards. “Especially with me and Zach [LaVine] getting pressured so much. Once Vucevic gets going, it makes everybody else’s job easier.’’
That’s the point Vucevic has insisted on all season.
Vucevic scored 27 points against Washington, but there were at least five instances in which he got cross-matched with a smaller defender or had a defender sealed and was ignored.
He easily could’ve had close to 40 points.
But this has been an ongoing matter, especially since the loss to the Grizzlies in late February, after which veteran big man Tristan Thompson pointed out that Memphis used a defensive blueprint to beat the Bulls, and that video was being used by the rest of the league.
True? Conspiracy theory? Who knows?
“I don’t need to take shots, but I think I can make everyone’s life easier if I get touches,’’ Vucevic said last week.
The Bulls will enter the game Thursday against the Clippers with a .579 winning percentage. In the 30 games in which Vucevic has taken at least 17 shots, the Bulls are 20-10 (.666). In the 28 games in which he has at least four assists, their record is 19-9 (.678).
In the last six games against teams with at least a .600 winning percentage, however, Vucevic took 17 shots or more only once — in the loss to the Grizzlies — and the Bulls lost all six.
“You have to make a decision on how you’re going to guard us,’’ DeRozan said. “Vucevic is capable of making plays, shots, shooting threes, midrange, so teams have to make a decision. It’s a tough cover.’’
That’s why Vucevic might be the Bulls’ most important player in the playoffs, especially with how tightly DeRozan and LaVine will be guarded. Now, if only the rest of the team would start realizing it.
No matter whom the Bulls draw in the first round — the Celtics, Heat, 76ers or Bucks — they all have defensive-minded wings to throw at LaVine and DeRozan to try to make life difficult for the two All-Stars.
They also have bigs who will get physical with Vucevic. Even though Boston lost Robert Williams III with a knee injury, the Celts still have Al Horford and Daniel Theis. But Vucevic’s ability to hit threes — and he has done it at a 50% clip the last six games (11-for-22) — sets him apart.
“I know when I play one-on-one, I’m usually able to score against a lot of guys,’’ Vucevic said. “And if they start double-teaming me, it opens up a lot for us playing inside-out, which is important. You have to play inside-out in this league. You can’t just hang on the perimeter. That’s sometimes something we struggle with, and our offense gets stagnant.
“I was able to attack [against the Wizards], and, most important, we got the win.’’
Hopefully, Vucevic’s teammates won’t forget that game plan.